Do you feel like you ride better at home than you do at shows?
It is a common occurrence, and not just for western performance horse riders. Many competitive athletes, musicians, and artists feel that they perform better in practice than at competitions or shows.
Why is this such a common occurrence, and how can you fix it? In this blog post, I will share with you why it happens, and some proven sports psychology techniques to help you fix it.
First, let's look at why you feel you ride better at home than at shows.
This involves some inner reflection. What are your thoughts and feelings as you prepare to show? As you walk into the show pen?
Do you feel pressured? Pressured to win, or to perform well? Do you feel fearful of something bad happening in the show pen, like your horse spooking or misbehaving? Does the thought of the crowd watching make you nervous? Do you worry that you will disappoint your trainer, family, or friends if you don't win? Are your thoughts filled with a lot of negative "what ifs?"
Now, think back to the best ride that you every had on your horse at home, where you had the most fun and really enjoyed the ride. What were you thinking? I bet that it wasn't any of those negative thoughts that you listed above!
When we have negative thoughts and negative emotions, they cause a physical response in our bodies. When we are nervous or afraid, our muscles get tight, our stomachs churn, our palms get sweaty. Our horse then feels these physical changes in our body, and it can affect our horse in different ways. So clearly identifying what your negative thoughts are going into the show pen is the first step in solving the problem.
In this blog post, I will share a simple strategy to help fix the problem of riding better at home than you do at a show.
The Problem: Feeling pressured, like you aren't capable of riding good enough to win
The Fix: Add pressure to practice by setting specific goals
One way to help you perform as well at shows as you do at home is by practicing riding under pressure at home. This will simulate the show experience, and help you be more prepared. By having the mindset that practice rides are just as important as competition rides, you won't feel any change in pressure between riding at home as you do riding in the show pen.
To start adding pressure to your practice rides, set at least one goal that you will achieve during each practice ride. These goals should be achievable, but still require some effort to complete, and that clearly will help you be prepared for what you will be asked to perform in the show pen. By setting, and achieving, goals for each practice session you will build your confidence in yourself and in your horse's abilities, and that feeling of confidence will carry over to competition day.
Some goals for practice rides could be:
-Riding at a posting trot or canter without stirrups for two minutes,
-Maintaining straightness in a side pass,
-Extending the trot without breaking into a lope,
-Trot over logs three times without hitting them,
-Or some other goal specific to your discipline/event that you are working on.
The important thing is to set a clear goal and work on achieving it during every ride. Think back also to the thoughts that you have as you enter the show pen, and set goals to combat those thoughts.
Many negative thoughts trace back to a fear of being unable to perform the required parts of the competition, of not being ready, or of failing in the show pen, and reflect back to a lack of confidence in yourself and/or your horse. To help eliminate these thoughts with concrete actions, your practice goals should be to work on the maneuvers that you will be asked to perform in the show pen, so that you know you can perform them and that you will be ready. Then when you experience the thoughts of "I'm not ready," or "I can't do this," you can reply to that inner voice with positive self-talk by saying "Yes we can, we did that maneuver in practice last week!"
Another idea is to videotape your practice rides and review these technical skills with your trainer for even more feedback and opportunities for improvement. I always feel more pressured to ride better when that red record light is on!
The Problem: Your show pen expectations are related to the outcome of the event
The Fix: Transform your expectations into achievable action goals
If your thoughts on show day are related to the outcome of the show, such as, I have to win today to qualify, or I have to be perfect or so-and-so will be disappointed, then you will end up putting a lot of pressure on yourself on show day. This will lead to feeling anxious and nervous, and if you are feeling anxious and nervous you will not be able to perform at your best.
So if this describes you on show day, how can you fix it? By changing the focus from the outcome of the show, to the action that you need to take to be successful. If your expectation is winning a reining class, transform this expectation into action goals, such as clean lead changes and balanced stops. Write down your action goals. Get detailed-write down the steps to each one of your action goals. This will give you a plan of the things that you need to do on show day, the exact action that you need to take, instead of worrying about the outcome.
(Tip: make these action goals your practice goals too, and work on them at home!)
What are some of your show pen fears/nerves/negative self-talk? What are some action and practice goals that you can set to help yourself be calm in the show pen? I would love to hear from you, please leave me a comment or send me a message! Also, if you have a friend that would benefit from this article, please share it with them!
Siobhan "Chevy" Allen, The Social Stockwoman
Personal Performance Coach and Certified Master Life Coach
To learn more about my "Get Gritty: Mental Toughness Program for Western Performance Horse Riders" visit my website at www.socialstockwoman.com